After the widely criticised launch of Final Fantasy XIV, the newest MMORPG title to come out of the franchise, we sit down with the game's producer Hiromichi Tanaka and global online producer Sage Sundi to talk about the upcoming changes that will be coming this winter.
Q: One of the complaints about FFXIV is that, for a Western audience, it isn't accessible. Do you think that Asian MMOs need to Westernise in order to grow internationally?
Hiromichi Tanaka: We believe that's not only from the Western audience who say that - we've also had feedback from the Japanese market complaining about accessibility. Because Final Fantasy was released globally, we are really listening to all the region's voices. That's why, for the next update, we will be implementing tutorials and more quests to make it easier for people to find what to do in the game. That's one of the focusses we have.
Q: Does this imply that the game is less accessible than most Asian-based MMOs?
HT: We don't think it's really Asian styled, we just think that Final Fantasy XIV is very difficult - well, we understand it could be difficult.
Q: Why do you think it's that difficult?
HT: First of all it's probably the user interface, that wasn't easy for the players to find it straight away. Also the quests, we were focusing on the later stages of quests, therefore we believe we should have focused on the tutorial side or the early quests so people will know what to do or how to do things in the early stages.
Q: What did you think about the negative reaction to the game once it was launched? Were you surprised?
HT: We do understand there was a lot of dissatisfaction amongst the players, so we do feel very sorry that we couldn't meet expectations. One of the reasons behind that was because during the alpha test and beta test we were concentrating on fixing all the bugs. But we do understand there were lots of things we wanted to implement in the game, but because we were fixing all the bugs we couldn't really do it at the same time. That's one of the reasons the game wasn't in the shape that they wanted it to be when the launch happened.
Q: What kinds of changes have been made then?
HT: The main three areas in which we are planning to make changes. One is the user interface; we are going to improve it so it will be much easier for players to use. Then the market system should be more convenient for the player. And also the battle system - we're going to adjust it so players have a clear view of what they're supposed to do next. Those are the three main areas.
Q: Would you have preferred it if you had set the launch date later, then?
HT: [laughs] We definitely wanted to look into that possibility as well, but at the same time we do believe that the players wanted to try out the game as soon as possible. When we thought about the balance, because MMO doesn't mean the launch is the end of the product, rather the beginning of a long process. Rather than delaying the launch for three months or six months we thought we would release it and listen to the feedback and grow with the players and make the game with the players. That's why we stuck with the launch date.
Q: In that case can the game still be a critical success?
HT: Yes we believe that the most important thing is satisfying our players. This is not the end of the FFXIV, we have the PS3 launch in the near future so we are going to fix all the issues that the players are not satisfied with and improve the game. Even if the players left the game for any reason we do hope by upgrading the game they'll find that the game has changed.
Q: What is the state of the PS3 version right now?
HT: At the moment almost the same version as Windows is running on the PS3. So we are focussing on optimisation and fine tuning the detail and fixing all the bugs.
Q: Why do you think more MMOs don't make the move to console?
HT: Because MMO's are very hardcore games you really have to have PC as one of the audience, that's fundamental part of MMO business. But if you make the PC version and simply move it to console it's going to lack something which console players are looking for, and also the many parts of the MMO experience will be removed. What we're trying to do is make the game designed from the beginning focussing on PC gamers and console gamers. Also, if you make the PC version first and simply shift it to the console version it is going to double the manpower and the cost. That is one of the reasons why we think our other competitors will find difficulty with.
Q: How do you compare the first few months of Final Fantasy XIV with Final Fantasy 11?
HT: Final Fantasy XI was first launched on PS2 in Japan and then the PC version came out after six months, so we started from the console side. At that point players had a network and also had to buy external hard space for PS2 to play FFXI, so it wasn't easy for them to start playing the game in the first place. We wanted to have PC and PS3 launched, a simultaneous launch this time but unfortunately we couldn't do it so we're hoping to bring the PS3 version as soon as possible so we have the same cross-platform, cross-region experience as FF11.
Also, because FFXI started on the console side, the UI wasn't really a problem for FFXI because more players using PS2 would use their gamepads. But this time, because it's started with the PC version players are really focussed on the mouse and keyboard and usability and that is something very different from a game point of view so we are really focussing on improving the UI. There will be a new UI in the future.
Q: Technically the game is quite story driven but the primary story line only seems take place between certain levels, why is this?
HT: Since it's an RPG, it's very important to experience the storyline when you level up your character, so you don't see the ending when you're level one so it's quite natural that you gradually experience it. But we do understand that it's taking some time for players to level up to 20. We consider 1-20 quite an early stage of the game, and players are able to enjoy their class quest from level 20 onwards where you really get into the main storyline, but we do understand it's taking too long to reach level 20. We are planning to adjust the speed-up level, so they can really get to the main storyline as soon as possible.
Q: Which relates to the cap that's been put on experience you can receive daily, to keep players from playing too long. What has been your opinion on that decision now that the game has been launched?
HT: We received a lot of feedback that it's taking too long and it was longer than we actually expected, that is one of the reasons why we decided to make adjustments to that and speed it up.
Q: Having seen all the feedback, what would you have done differently within development if you could?
HT: Actually if you see the list of plans we have for the next version updates, we would like to change everything. You will be able to expect quite a few changes to the game.
Q: Was there anything you were specifically happy with in the game?
HT: First of all, the storyline and the cutscenes, those are areas we are really proud of and we hope all the players will enjoy that. Also the armoury system. We are planning to adjust it, we think it needs to be adjusted slightly to make it more unique for each class, but the system which allows players to have more flexibility and grow in different directions, having more freedom on how they're able to progress in the game. The armoury system itself is very unique to Final Fantasy XIV and it is something we're happy with.